ORONO — Over the past decade, Maine has seen 2.2 percent annual growth in aquaculture, which has had an overall economic impact of $140 million annually. Tackling the growing challenges for the sector — from emerging finfish and shellfish diseases to the effects of climate change — is the impetus behind a new partnership.
The University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service and Auburn University in Alabama, has established an Aquaculture Experiment Station.
“This cooperative agreement is a commitment to an ongoing conversation between researchers and the aquaculture industry to increase sustainable production and industry stability,” according to the announcement of the joint venture.
The Aquaculture Experiment Station will involve faculty in Orono and researchers based on the Orono campus, UMaine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole and the National Marine Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center in Franklin.
The agreement, eligible for renewal every five years, is funded by $950,000 from the USDA Agricultural Research Service for the first year, and $750,000 annually thereafter.
“An Aquaculture Experiment Station at the state’s research university aligns with our mission as the land, sea and space grant institution in Maine,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “Aquaculture is critical for the future of our coastal communities and for the economic recovery of Maine. For more than a decade, UMaine’s nationally and internationally recognized aquaculture researchers and facilities have been dedicated to problem-solving, student experience and workforce development and advancing this sector to benefit the state’s economy.”
As researchers in the Aquaculture Experiment Station, University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute faculty leads Deborah Bouchard, Damian Brady and Paul Rawson will expand their work to address issues such as alternative feeds for finfish, selective breeding in oysters and “off-flavor” in salmon meat. The experimental station will allow researchers to provide rapid response to industry challenges in a farm and hatchery setting. New research initiatives, focused on genetic improvement of North American Atlantic salmon and the Eastern oyster for aquaculture production, will explore selective breeding strategies to improve performance for economically important traits, including growth and disease resistance.